Cong wanted Moily, not Ahluwalia, as plan panel deputy chairman

Cong wanted Moily, not Ahluwalia, as plan panel deputy chairman

M Veerappa Moily was Congress’ choice for the post of Planning Commission deputy chairman in 2004 but the chair went to Montek Singh Ahluwalia after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh secured CPM support on his appointment, a book by former media adviser to the prime minister Sanjaya Baru has claimed.

Baru’s 320-page “The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” has given a vivid account on how Singh went ahead, rejecting the party’s choice after his meeting with the then CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

“The first thing I did the next morning was to go across to 7, RCR (race course residence of the prime minister) and ask him why Surjeet had come to call on him. He merely said, ‘Montek will be deputy chairman’. But his smile, exuding both mischief and triumph, gave the game away. One wily Sardar had secured the support of another wily Sardar to get a third one on board,” Baru writes.

According to Baru, Singh had sought his suggestion on the appointment of Planning Commission deputy chairman. Baru suggested the name of Ahluwalia, who was then with the International Monetary Fund but “willing to return if asked to do so”.

“The party has some politicians in mind,” Singh told Baru and mentioned that Congress suggested the names of Digvijay Singh, S M Krishna and Moily.

“All former chief ministers, I thought to myself, and all without a seat in Parliament.

These were good names, I said to him diplomatically, but repeated that if he was thinking of a job for Montek, this would be a good one,” he writes.

Singh later summoned his Principal Secretary T K A Nair and Joint Secretary Pulok Chatterjee and sought their suggestions. “Nair kept quiet. Pulok said, ‘The party has suggested Mr Moily.’ I assumed ‘the party’ in this case meant Sonia. Dr Singh then turned to me. On cue, I offered my rationale for suggesting Montek’s name. At this point, Nair piped up to say the Left Front might object,” he writes.

During these discussions, Singh remained silent and there was no further discussion.

Later in the day, Baru learned that Ahluwalia had a meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram who had invited him to return to his old job as Finance Secretary. Baru told Ahluwalia that the Left seemed to be blocking his entry to which he replied that he would speak to Prabhat Patnaik, his contemporary from college and now a leading Left intellectual.

The same day late in the evening, Singh had a meeting with Surjeet during which the CPM leader cleared the air on Ahluwalia. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury had escorted Surjeet. “I chatted for a while with Yechury, whom I knew as Sita from our schooldays in Hyderabad and learnt from him that the opposition to Montek’s name was not the handiwork of the Left” but an economist who is no more.

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